Highway maintenance

Cyclists need smooth, defect-free roads
Cherry Allan's picture

Highway maintenance

Cyclists suffer disproportionately from poor highway maintenance, so they need local authorities to keep surfaces smooth, well-swept and defect-free.

 Headline message

  • For their comfort and safety, cyclists need highway authorities to maintain smooth and defect-free roads.
  • Pothole, ruts, loose gravel, ice or diesel/oil spills not only make cycling uncomfortable, but can cause serious, sometimes fatal injuries.
  • It is not just the depth of a pothole that matters to cyclists – its location and shape makes a difference too (i.e. defects towards the kerb, longitudinal cracks that can trap wheels etc.)
  • Any road maintenance procedure is a cost-effective opportunity to make other changes to improve conditions for cycling at the same time (e.g. through road layout or marking).

 Policy key facts

  • From 2007-2018, 'poor or defective road surface' was recorded by the police as a ‘contributory factor’ in incidents in which 26 cyclists died = an average of two p.a.
  • About 12% of the legal claims handled by Cycling UK’s Incident Line on behalf of our members are due to poor maintenance.
  • Minor roads carry over 82% of cycle mileage, compared to only about 35% of car mileage. Major roads, however, are prioritised for maintenance.
  • Local authorities in England and London had higher percentage of roads in poor condition in 2018/19 than in 2017/18 (21% as opposed to 18%/ 26% as opposed to 23%). The percentage had, however, dropped in Wales (from 17% to 12%).
  • Altogether, English, London and Welsh authorities reckon that it would take 10 years to restore their roads to a reasonable state (subject to sufficient funding and resources).
  • In Scotland (2018), 36.3% of local authority roads had either deteriorated to some extent or were in poor overall condition and in need of planned maintenance soon.
  • The RAC’s 2019 report on motoring found that condition and maintenance of local roads was a top concern among drivers (at 33%, it came third out of a list of twenty).
  • For 2018/19, the one-time ‘catch up’ cost is £9.79 billion, or an average per local authority of: £69.9m in England; £31.9m in London; £36.3m in Wales
  • In Scotland, the estimated maintenance backlog for local roads is £1.8 billion.
  • 1.86 million+ potholes were filled altogether in England, Wales & London in 2018/19, a 24% rise on 2017/18 (1.5million). This cost £97.8m.
  • It costs from £32 to £42 per ‘planned’ pothole fix, as opposed to £64 to £70 for a ‘reactive’ fix.
  • Most authorities will prioritise the repair of a pothole if it is 40mm (or less) deep.
  • Between them, from 2013/14 to 2017/18 (five years) 156 councils paid out 25 times as much in compensation claims per cyclist than for motorists: the average pay-out per cyclist = £8,825.93; the average pay-out per motorist = £338.88.

Cycling UK view 

  • All road users suffer from poorly maintained roads, but cyclists are disproportionately affected.
  • Local authorities need sufficient funding so that they can maintain roads well.
  • The business case for highway maintenance investment should reflect the environmental and health benefits of reduced fuel consumption, and the deterrent effect of poor surfaces on cycling and walking (due to the greater risks and effort involved), as well as the reduced costs of highway repairs, delays, and damages to both people and vehicles.
  • National guidance, and the policies and standards adopted by individual highway authorities for inspecting and prioritising repairs should take account of cyclists’ comfort and safety. These should then be used to assess whether highways authorities are liable when cyclists suffer injury or other damages due to highway defects.
  • For cyclists, the location and shape of a surface defect, not just the depth, are important. All guidance should therefore emphasise that special consideration must be given to defects that:
    • Are at or near junctions;
    • Are on downhill sections of roads;
    • Present a sharp upstand on the far side of the defect;
    • Run along rather than across the path that cyclists will be taking, i.e. those which are more likely to trap a cyclist’s wheel.
  • Local authorities should devote more of their resources to road surface renewal or resurfacing programmes, rather than short-term, emergency patching.
  • Minor roads and off-road cycle facilities, where most cycling occurs, should be given greater priority in highway maintenance policies and procedures (including winter maintenance), while the whole-life upkeep of off-road cycle routes should be planned and costed-in from the outset.
  • Highway authorities should be encouraged to use bicycles with sensors to monitor road and cycle track surface quality, and to use specialised narrower vehicles to keep cycle tracks free of debris and vegetation, or from snow and ice.
  • Safe and convenient cycle access should be retained at the site of road/streetworks, wherever possible.
  • Utility companies must ensure that reinstatements are safe, and remain safe, for cycling; and that cycle signing, coloured surfacing and other features are retained or enhanced. Where utility companies perform to a poor standard, local authorities must oblige them to reinstate to a proper condition.
  • Authorities should respond quickly to any reports made by cyclists alerting them to road defects. Online reporting tools (e.g. Cycling UK’s Fill that Hole) are an effective channel for this.
  • The providers of defect management systems for highway authorities should integrate their products with Fill that Hole and similar public defect-reporting websites, to facilitate two-way communication between site-users and highway authorities.
  • When resurfacing, local authorities should take the opportunity to ‘cycle proof’ the road, i.e. systematically consider improving cycling conditions as part of the project. This approach requires coordination between maintenance planning, highways engineers and those promoting sustainable travel. It also helps maximise the synergies between cycling and maintenance budgets and enhances their value.

2018-11-16 00:00:00 Europe/London

Download the full detailed campaign briefing  

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